The Spirit of Dialogue by Aaron T. Wolf

Lessons from Faith Traditions in Transforming Conflict

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Washington, DC (July 31, 2017)Whether we are professional facilitators or simply trying to improve relations with those around us, we all face conflict. Competing interests tend to drive our approach to difficult conversations: a farmer wants to preserve water for crops, but an environmentalist wants to use the same water for instream habitats. In the West, we are taught to navigate situations like this rationally, eliminating the human element to focus on what is “measurable and quantifiable.” But is this strictly rational approach limiting our ability to understand both party’s needs and effectively resolve conflict?

After 20 years of mediating conflict in the U.S. and around the world, trained mediator, facilitator, and scientist Aaron T. Wolf learned that people are not automatons in the face of negotiation. The capstone of twelve years of traveling and research, his latest book The Spirit of Dialogue (Publication Date: September 14, 2017) draws lessons from faith traditions around the world to find ways to transform conflict. As a scientist, he engages religion not for the purpose of dogma, but for the practical process of mediation.

Wolf describes the Buddhist practice of true listening that serves to identify the root cause of anger, unlike the active listening that is recommended by many mediators. There is also Christian grace, or the alignment with an energy beyond oneself, that can be crucial in transforming self-righteousness into a community concern. Concrete examples from around the world reinforce understanding of key concepts. True stories range from a group in California that solved their shouting problem by coming together at a public library to the story behind the water-related clauses of the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace.

From these stories Wolf extracts practical lessons for readers, including the creative use of silence, reframing problems around shared values, projecting calm through breathing, and more. Bolstered with photos, graphics, and skills-building exercises that actively engage readers in conflict transformation, The Spirit of Dialogue will teach readers how to acutely tune into the needs of people, offering a novel, yet proven approach to conflict transformation.

Daniel Goleman, author of the number one bestseller Emotional Intelligence, said “Aaron Wolf is an inspiring facilitator and mediator who applies the highest levels of emotional intelligence in his work. In The Spirit of Dialogue, he weaves his powerful tales from negotiations with spiritual perspectives on how hearts can connect across divides. A book anyone trying to help groups discover common ground will find of great benefit.”

As a practical guide for people from all faith backgrounds, The Spirit of Dialogue will aid scientists, facilitators, farmers, environmentalists, and general readers alike in working to find common ground, ultimately paving the path toward successful conflict prevention, transformation, and resolution.

Aaron T. Wolf is a Professor of Geography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. He has acted as a consultant to the World Bank and several international governments and agencies on various aspects of transboundary water resources and dispute resolution. A trained mediator/facilitator, Wolf directs the Program in Water Conflict Management and Transformation.

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